Thoughts on “good reviews”

Self-published authors write about reviews.  A lot.  They are important to us.

However, while there is a lot of talk about “good reviews” and “bad reviews”, I don’t see a lot of discussion on what makes a review “good” or “bad”.   And that’s something that I think any discussion of reviews should touch upon, because there are basically two different ways of judging them and when both rubrics use the same words confusion is bound to follow.

I would describe reviews as either well or poorly written, and also as either favorable or unfavorable.   That gives us not simply two classes of reviews (“good” and “bad”) but four, and I think that each of the four deserves some discussion.

Well-written, Favorable: This, obviously, is the best kind of review to get.  When someone takes the time to say that she or he enjoyed your book, and to say so in a clear, well-written brief, well, that makes your whole day.  These are the kinds of reviews that sell books, the kind that you can quote on the book jacket.

Poorly-written, Favorable: These are a little more problematical.  As a reader, when I see a five star review that simply says something like, “This is the bestest book ever, you should buy it right now!” it doesn’t exactly sell me on the work. In fact, when I see a number of extremely favorable but incoherent reviews, I tend to shy away.  I understand that people can enjoy a book without being able to explain just why, but I do expect that someone who is taking the effort to write a review has something to say about why this book is a good one.  Unless the reviewer is a friend of the author who has been guilt-tripped into leaving a five star rating.  (Not that I am claiming that all poorly-written favorable reviews fall into this category, but it’s something I consider.  I’m cynical that way.)

Well-written, Unfavorable: I actually learn the most from these kinds of reviews.  People who take the time to write about a book that they didn’t enjoy definitely have something to say.  And, you know, there have been reviews written by people who didn’t like a book that have ended up selling me on it.  For example, I don’t like reading sex scenes.  I rather enjoy having sex, but reading about it bores me.  I tend to skip past sex scenes in books, actually.  So when someone writes a review complaining that the book in question skipped over the “good parts”, I consider that a plus.

In short, a well-written review that can explain why that particular reader didn’t enjoy the book can actually encourage other people to read it.

Poorly-written, Unfavorable: Yeah, we’ve all seen them.  Sometimes it’s just “this book sux balls its so dum!“.  Sometimes they are lengthy rants that seem to have nothing to do with the book, or take one minor scene and expound on it at great length.  These are the only type of review that I would consider reporting to a site and asking to be removed, and then only if it contained offensive language (which most of them seem to).

Personally, I have been very fortunate in my reviews.  The people who have taken the time to write a review of Catskinner’s Book are, by and large, very articulate.  Not everyone has liked the book, but I haven’t seen anything in a review that I disagreed with. My work is not for everyone, and I do try to make it clear in my promotional materials exactly what I write and what my readers are getting themselves in to.

I know that ranking is important, and that low star reviews can make a book less visible on distributor’s sites.   Even so, I would urge authors to look past the star ratings and read seriously what reviewers have to say and how they say it.  I would much rather have someone give my work an unfavorable review and explain why than just say it’s great and leave it at that.  (I mean, I already know my work is great, I rely on reviewers to tell me something I don’t know.)

In closing, to everyone who has reviewed Catskinner’s Book, no matter what you thought of it, thank you.  The fact that people are moved by work to the extent that they take the time to write about it means more than I can say.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Thoughts on “good reviews”

  1. I am not quite at the stage of being able to have work in the format to be reviewed. Even the thought of beta readers scares the living daylights out of me. Because the work took a little piece of me to do. I do however wholeheartedly agree with you on reviews and I am a little bit addicted to the ones on Amazon. Here’s to me looking forward to my first review. Be that positive or negative.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I don’t really take comments regarding my work personally any more. A lot of that, I think, is simply experience. I have been part of a lot of writing groups and have had a lot of people read my stuff long before I published anything.

      Yes, it’s scary and it can be painful to have other people read and critique your work. But it does get easier.

  2. One of the earlier reviews I got was from a friend of mine (gasp!), but they were very sincere in their review, which is exactly what I was hoping for. The only problem was that they misspelled the protagonist’s name! Luckily I knew them, so I contacted them and ever-so-politely asked if they could please change the name to the correct one. They were amused, and did so promptly. But that’s the thing with reviews — a good review, but one with typos / mistakes / whatever, has the potential to be as harmful as a bad review. I’m like you — when I’m reading reviews, I mostly ignore the stars and look at what people have to say, and if what they have to say is poorly written, I have to wonder if there’s something fishy going on there. 5-star reviews are like bubbles — they look pretty on the surface, but if you dig too deep they might just pop.

  3. I don’t agree with the Five-Star rating system. I’ve seen reviewers write that they couldn’t finish the book and then rate it 1 or 2. Why rate it if they didn’t read it? Some reviewers will WOW a book without mentioning anything good about it. Others will rant about how they loved the theme and completely ignore the actual writing. A review should be able to stand by itself without stars. Of course it’s easier to star a book than to review it. I’m ranting, please don’t rate this.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I agree, the star system is flawed, but I’m kind of at a loss for a suggestion to replace it with. I think that readers are having to learn a certain level of discernment, a system that allows anyone to review a work is subject to abuse. On the other hand, a system that didn’t allow anyone to review a work probably wouldn’t allow me to review a work. It is, if nothing else, a very democratic system, my reviews are given no more and no less weight than anyone else’s.

  4. Dave Higgins says:

    I much prefer a well reasoned review with which I disagree to a bland statement of greatness (or even the confusing medium star rating with a review that the book was great). I feel the issue is that most reviewers are not writers; they have neither practice in expressing their feelings nor the understanding of technical aspects of writing, so cannot reach a description of their pleasure.

    I can understand marking a book with a low star rating if you did not finish it for one of a set of reasons (for example, there were spelling and grammar errors in every paragraph making it painful to read), but not if you just gave up because the part you read was not enthralling enough to overcome the other demands on your time. I wrote more about my ambivalence for star ratings here.

  5. trendyhammer says:

    A fascinating & highly informative Post Misha, Thank You, MUCH Appreciated.

    I agree with you when you say that how much sense a review of a Book makes, & whether or not it will compel the reader to purchase it.

    I can also well understand what you then go on to say regarding a review of a book that a reader doesn’t enjoy, even though they purchased it. They want to ‘grind their axe’ & ‘get it off their chest’.

    I am also in agreement with you in terms of your saying that you don’t like reading sex scenes in Novels & how you’d prefer to bypass them & that you’d prefer to have sex. I would as well, but due to the fact that I am a Wheelchair User, & have been so since Birth, it’s out of the question.|

    Reviews that are BOTH poorly written & unfavourable, are, I guess from what you say, written by people who have a limited vocabulary at their disposal?, if all that they can do is to refer to it with the aid of ‘coarse’ language?.

    Your preference to read Book Reviews, as opposed to just looking at ‘Star Ratings’ is something else that I perceive to be ‘bang on’ too.

    I hadn’t even heard of either ‘Catskinners Book’, or your good self until reading the email saying that you were also following my Blog, & then my ‘following up by reading, & contributing to this Post after beginning to follow your Blog also. In closing, MANY Thanks to you – You are the inaugural ‘Follower’ of my Blog, MUCH Appreciated.

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